Like many of my fellow Kentucky citizens, I’ve spent the past several days trying to wrap my mind around Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposal to fix the state’s ailing pension system. Overall, I think it is a good if imperfect plan. I would vote for it were I in the legislature, and I will encourage both my local elected legislators to do just that.
There are some draconian elements (the pay cuts for our teachers), but it would be smarter to devote part of a 2018 legislative campaign to pay increases for educators than to engage Bevin in a public and ultimately failing effort to change his proposal.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that this is the plan most Kentucky voters want.
The problems with the pension system exist because Kentuckians demanded services they didn’t want to pay for, so politicians first underfunded and then later raided the pension system to keep their jobs. If we wanted politicians who would raise taxes to pay our debts we would have them; so instead, we get a plan that asks public servants of today to pay for our sins of yesterday. Don’t blame the legislators who will vote for the bill in November if you don’t like it. Blame the voters who are going to re-elect them in 2018.
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But it is important to note that Bevin’s plan won’t be without consequences. As a professor, I have seen half a generation of great Kentucky students enter college with the hearts of public servants, only to burn out because of education and social welfare systems that are underfunded by Republicans and over-regulated by Democrats. The ones who have stayed the course have done so in part because they were promised rewards tomorrow for their under-appreciated efforts today. This bill ends that promise, whatever the rhetoric says.
Starting now, the college graduates that Kentuckians would want to serve them will either find a private-sector job with real pay and benefits, or they will serve in states willing to pay what they are worth. And the ranks of our teachers and social workers will be populated by those who lack the ambition to do any better than Kentucky voters have to offer.
Think I am wrong? Buy a cup of coffee for a current public school teacher and ask them what they think.
Shawn Williams is the lead professor of political science and director of the Kentucky Heartland Institute of Public Policy at Campbellsville University.